As anyone who has ever broken out around their period knows, shifting hormones can do a number on your skin. Out of control oil production, dullness and those oh-lord-why-me deep hormonal pimples are all fair game as your hormone levels rise and fall.
If your normal cycle is a rollercoaster, being pregnant is like an earthquake for your skin. The changing hormones it takes to, you know, produce a whole human often mean major changes for your skin from head-to-toe (not all of which are bad). Not to mention major changes for your skin-care routine.
Read on for the most common ways your skin might change — on your face and on your body — when you are pregnant and what to do about them.
There is no getting around it: stretch marks are a reality of pregnancy. They can happen in any trimester and occur anywhere your skin is expanding, says Shari Marchbein, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New York. When you are pregnant, that can be just about anywhere — your body is juggling increased weight, fluid retention, and of course, the actual stretching of the abdomen by the baby. (Another fun side effect? This often leaves the skin on your stomach dry and itchy, says Marchbein. “Excellent skin care with gentle soap and thick creamy moisturizers can help,” she says.)
All that stretching puts your skin under stress to the point where it can tear beneath the surface. The resulting scar is the little red stretch mark. During pregnancy, this is particularly likely to happen since pregnancy hormones can promote collagen breakdown under the skin, Talakoub explains, making it more susceptible to those little tears.
How to prevent and treat
A few red streaks here and there are totally normal — tiger stripes are a hallmark of motherhood. But to prevent extensive scarring, keeping your stretching skin hydrated is key. “Hydration of the skin is like a cushion for the collagen and elastin fibers,” Talakoub says. “The more moisture on the skin, the less it will stretch and pull at the collagen fibers beneath the skin.” (Just be sure to avoid any skincare products that contain retinol, hydroquinone and salicylic acid — when you are pregnant these normally safe ingredients can be problematic.)
Once you do develop stretch marks, “treatment options are limited,” says Talakoub. If they really bother you, laser treatments starting six weeks postpartum can help fade the pigmentation — though nothing will erase stretch marks entirely, Talakoub says.
During pregnancy, your body is flooded with estrogen. Aside from creating pregnancy changes like increasing your cup size, stimulating milk production and softening the cervix before delivery, estrogen also increases “melanogenesis” — aka the production of pigment — in your skin, explains Lily Talakoub, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in Virginia.
Translation: For many women, this means dealing with a type of hyperpigmentation called melasma, the effects of increased hormones-meet-exposure to UV radiation or light. Typically, the patchy brown spots show up on the face — especially the places you apply highlighter (including your cheeks, chin, forehead, the bridge of the nose and above your upper lip), according to the American Academy of Dermatology. But because of the tie to UV exposure, melasma can also show up on your body in places where you get a lot of sun. (Think: forearms or chest).
See-sawing hormone levels can also cause another type of hyperpigmentation called “linea nigra” — a case of hyperpigmentation that looks almost like you took a magic marker and drew a vertical line from the top of your bump, through your belly button and down to your pubic bone. The “pregnancy line,” typically shows up around month five, according to the American Pregnancy Association, and gets darker as your pregnancy progresses.
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This little boy wants to be on my literal nerves today. The bottom of my rib cage is numb & I have some shooting pain down my right leg so I'm stretching on my exercise ball. Phew! But it will all be worth it when he's here. I can't complain though because this journey has been smooth sailing for the most part. He's been so good to me! We can't wait to meet you Little Man! 🦋 Mamas, what side effects did you feel during your pregnancy? 📸: Daddy #3rdtrimester #andababymakes3 #psalm37four #babyboy
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How to prevent and treat
The kicker with melasma, is that it does not go away when your hormone levels eventually go back to normal post-partum, Talakoub says, so prevention — i.e. lots and lots of SPF when you are pregnant — is ultra-important.
If you never leave the house without SPF and you still wind up with melasma, a dermatologist can help. Certain peels and in-office treatments can help address the hyperpigmentation, but you will have to wait after you are done nursing to get them, Talakoub says.
Unlike melasma, there is nothing you can do to prevent or treat linea nigra — it is just one of the many hormone-related natural changes your body goes through while it is busy baby-making. But the good news is it typically fades after you have given birth.
Varicose Veins and Spider Veins
Creating a whole human is kind of a big deal for your body. All that hard work requires some extra resources — aka blood — to supply all the necessary nutrients to both you and the fetus. On one hand, this process — which is called “neovascularization” if you want to impress your OB at your next appointment — is what is behind the “pregnancy glow” (more blood vessels means brighter skin, Talakoub explains). But on the flipside, it can cause veins to become more visible as they are pumped with more blood. On top of that, your growing uterus also sits against the largest vein in your pelvis, the vena cava. As the baby starts to put more and more pressure on it, it “prevents blood from the legs from recirculating to the heart. Blood leaks back down to the legs causing engorgement of smaller veins,” Talakoub says. The result: twisty blue veins that typically show up on your legs and are visible through the skin.
How to prevent and treat
Some women are more likely to get spider veins and varicose veins than others (it is a genetic thing), which, as a fun wildcard, may or may not go away after you give birth. To help prevent them, experts recommend strategies that stimulate blood flow. Think: regular exercise, wearing compression stockings, and elevating your feet when sitting down.
If you are stuck with them, talk to your dermatologist. A laser procedure may help to shrink the veins back down to size.
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